A 16-year-old girl burdened with a tangle of adult and teenage worries gets some unexpected help when a long-lost sibling appears on her doorstep.
When Madison’s Mormon brother, John, tracks her down in her small beach town, she’s anything but pleased. John is eager to reconnect with her, but she remains wary of his religion, as well as the other Mormons in her town. Madison’s brother is the least of her concerns, as she instead worries about the hot advances of her crush, Jean Pierre; her cruel best friend, Kailie; and her callous mother, who spends more time in her art studio than in her role as a parent. Madison faces these problems as a martyr. When Kailie ruthlessly hacks into Madison’s Facebook account, provoking another girl to give Madison two black eyes, Madison demurs: “I know Kailie’s felt this banged up and worse, emotionally, but she bottles it up inside. People only see the carefree front she puts up.” Just when readers may find this sort of helpless behavior cloying, Madison accepts help. Mormonism becomes a magnet in the story, drawing Madison in not for its religion, but for its members, like the kind and handsome Carson and the town freak, Alex Katsumoto, who goes from being a misunderstood mute “psycho” to the answer to all of Madison’s problems. John gives his love and attention to Madison, gradually becoming the sanctuary she needs, despite Madison’s initial resistance. She must learn to rely on these new friends and allies as she finds herself working to save Kailie from an abusive situation and her own mother from destitution. Through these challenges, Madison becomes the strong and compassionate narrator that lacks for the majority of the story. Adults are for the most part shockingly terrible people, creating an element of disbelief that things could get so bad for these teens without more immediate intervention or consequence. The novel aims for drama and achieves just that, although the level of many characters’ cruelty towards Madison is often over-the-top; a lesser menace would have sufficed.
A fast-paced blend of high-stakes drama and average teenage concerns (sex, appearance, friends), capped with a welcome message of hope.